Basics, Physiology

Trust your Gut.

Did you know you have two brains? One you already know of, the one in your head. There is also the one residing in your belly – your gut/GI-tract, also named the “second brain”. You might never have thought of your gut being anything else than a “feeding tube”, processing food, breaking it down and making nutrients available for the rest of your body. But this amazing tube has a lot more to say on how to run your system.

We already refer to the gut when it comes to our daily life: “Butterflies in your stomach.” “Gut-wrenching.” “Makes me feel nauseous.” “Lump in my throat.” “I have a gut feeling.”
And we all know how bad we feel when we have an upset stomach. It is also common knowledge that stress and anxiety has unwanted effects on  our GI-tract. But little did we expect how much we actually are run by our guts.

Research has shown that the gut contains more than 100 million neurons (nerve cells), that’s more than all the nerves in your spinal cord and your other body tissues together. This Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is located under the mucosal layer and in between the muscle layers in the gut.
The Vagal nerve, connecting your gut brain with your head brain, actually transports more information to the brain from the gut than the other way around. It is also an highly active endocrine (hormonal) organ, secreting more than 30 different neurotransmitters (signal substances), and variety of hormones to communicate within it self and with the other organs and tissues within the body.
Substances like dopamin, serotonin, glutamate and norepinephrine were believed to be products of the brain and the spinal cord only, but have now been found in the gut.

The ENS produces about 95 % of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mental health. One of the theories explaining depression suggests there is a lack of Serotonin in the brain and hence came the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) to solve the problem. A common adverse effect is gut issues, probably related to changing the balance of this chemical in the gut.
People suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS) has been shown to have raised levels of Serotonin in their gut tissues, and this could be a part of the puzzle explaining this disorder. A kind of “mental illness” of the second brain.

It seems like the serotonin from the gut also can have a part in the development of autism, a developmental disorder that affects how kids interact and communicate. Many kids with autism also have GI issues and food allergies and sensitivities. It seems that the same genes that codes for the development of synapses (the connections between nerves) in the brain are responsible for the growth of the gut brain as well.

The GI -tract also has a big role to play in our feelings of happiness and comfort. There are cells secreting and recieving “feel-good” hormones, e.g. endorphines and enkephalins, in the wall along the lenght of our food tube. They relay feelings of happiness, joy, satisfaction and pain relief.
It also produces chemicals resembling bensodiazepines, a class of drugs used for anxiety disorders and for calming the body.
These together are responsible, at least partly, for your that warm gut feelings.

The gut and the brain communicates through the nervous system, the hormonal system and also through the immune system.
A big part of our immune system resides in the gut and bacteria, believe it or not, are a part of the immune system as well as important players in the gut brain.
Some of the micororganisms in our gut release neurotransmitters that sends messages to our brain through the vagus nerve. Others take care of the break down of foods and the building of nutrients that are vital for us and we couldn’t get without their help.
So it seems we need the right bacteria in our guts to keep everything running smoothly, including our head brain, immune system and hormonal system.

This is a growing field of research, neurogastroenterology, looking for how the connections between our gut brain and head brain affect neurodegenrative diseases like Alzheimers and MS and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD, autism spectrum disorders etc.
It seems that our second brain is far more important in the development of disease and disorders than we ever could expect.
It might be that gut dysbiosis (dysregulation in the bacterial environment of the gut) is the culprit for many diseases and will be the first thing that is looked for and treated.

When you think about it, it doesn’t seem that far fetched that how we live and what we eat will affect our health. Not only does the food need to be nutritious for the cells in our bodies, we need to feed the bacteria in our guts in the right way as well.
We actually “know” what to eat and how, but we don’t know how to listen to the signals any more. We are disconnected from our environment and hence the food we eat.

I suggest you pay attention when you eat next time, hone your gut intelligence. How does it feel when you eat? How do you feel afterwards? Full or still hungry? Warm and happy or upset and painful? Are you craving certain foods (sugar is not included here, because of it’s addictive properties)?
Also trust your gut feelings when it comes to make decisions. Do you feel tight in your stomache when saying yes to that job? Do you actually want to add another house project in your free time?

What does your gut brain say?

Resources:
1) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
2) http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-gut-brain-connection
3) http://psychologyofeating.com/brain-belly/
4) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201404/the-gut-brain-connection-mental-illness-and-disease

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Basics, LCHF, Physiology

Sugar – a No-brainer

There is this myth circulating that our brain only works on glucose, the sugar molecule in our blood.
Many times, when I discuss low carbohydrate/ketogenic diets with people one of the first arguments that come up is “but the brain needs sugar”. Is this true?

There are a couple of areas in the brain that can only run on sugar, they need approximately 30 grams of glucose daily. An amount that your liver easily can deliver by making glucose from mostly protein and to a smaller degree from fat, even without eating a single carbohydrate.
The other parts of the brain runs perfectly fine on ketones, the energy containing molecules that the liver makes from fat and protein when glucose isn’t available. In fact, the brain runs better on ketones than on sugar! Getting the energy out of a ketone body is a little less “dirty” than burning a glucose molecule. In this case free radicals are the “smoke”, and they react with surrounding molecules in a process called oxidation which gives rise to an inflammatory response. Making energy out of the food we eat will always create these molecules.
The body uses anti-oxidants like vitamin E and C, CoQ10, glutathione, that react with the free radical and neutralize it. Some of them, like glutathione can be recycled in various processes to be used again and others, the vitamins, need to be replenished through diet.

The less oxidative stress you put on your body and especially the brain, the better and smoother your cells will work.

Not only does glucose “smoke” more than ketones, it also has direct negative effects on how well the nerve cells work. Glucose have a tendency to react with proteins, a process called glycosylation. This changes the structure of the protein which many times rendering it non-working and the cells won’t recognize them.
One example is when glucose reacts with the tag protein on the LDL molecule, the transport molecule for fats and cholesterol, which makes it unrecognizable for the receptors on the cells, and they stay in the blood stream and can trigger an inflammatory response. Upregulated and dysregulated inflammation is the culprit in most of our modern diseases, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, SLE and other degenerative diseases and it has a part in the development of cancer. Keeping inflammation to the minimum and only used when necessary to fight of infections and healing wounds, should be everyone’s highest priority. At least if you want to rank up your odds for a long, healthy, intelligent and also happy life.

It’s not just the brain that reap the benefits of a low carbohydrate/ketogenic diet, the heart and the muscles also run perfectly fine on the ketones and also enjoy the lessened oxidative stress. So, there’s nothing to loose on going low sugar!

Psychology and Spirituality

Habits – the unknown power.

What did you do when you woke up this morning? Got out of bed, put clothes on, made breakfast and ate it, maybe? Did you brush your teeth before or after eating? Do you remember brewing your coffee? How did you get to work? If you drove your car, do you remember actively choosing which route to take? Do you remember thinking about how to open the car door or that you need to look in the side mirrors before crossing a lane?
If you bicycled, did you ever had to stop and think about how to pedal, keep the balance and steer and maybe wave good-morning to the neighbor?
You probably remember the events that fell out of the normal routine, like being out of coffee, a kid unexpectedly running in front of your car or a flat tire on your bicycle.
When you think about it your day is full of automated actions, things you do every day without needing to put much thought into it. Your habits.

Everyone has them – habits. They are small automated programs in your brain, designed to make it more effective and helping it sort between the million pieces of information you are confronted with daily. By automating some parts in your life you can free your mind for other more complicated thought processes, like making decisions on how to handle the angry customer in front of you if you are working at a store, or the best way of caring for a wound if you are a nurse in the ED. And even then you will rely partly on your habits, developed from earlier experiences.

A habit started out as a conscious decision, having a cup of coffee at Starbucks on your way to work for example. Then through repetition it developed to an unconscious process. You don’t have to think about going to Starbucks, you just stop by on your way to work. You have probably found your self driving to Starbucks on a weekend when you didn’t pay attention to where you were going.
Eating dinner while watching TV or going for a work out after work are also habits, that once were fully aware decisions that have become automated through repetition.
This is how your brain works, how it creates structure and filtrates in the massive input it is faced with every day.
Habits are not exclusive to individuals. Groups of various sizes have them, even companies struggle with them. The culture on a working place is made up of sets of habits. Do you report problems to your superior or not? Is it okay to talk to your boss directly or do you have to go through your manager? Do you chat with your colleagues at lunch? Do you go to a restaurant and eat together or do you all bring food packages? Habits.
Companies that have realized this try to have an atmosphere that will promote good habits, like the willingness to report problems so they can be solved as soon as possible, that will spread to new coworkers, even without needing to specifically attend to it. Newcomers will soon fall into whatever is the habits of that work place, just by copying their seniors.
You obviously need habits to survive your daily life without overloading your brain with decision-making processes. But not all of your habits are ones you want. That TV-dinner will make you stay in front of the series all night instead of going for a jog, or maybe keep you from interacting with your family. Eating lunch with your colleagues every day might keep you from eating the food you actually would like and that you know would keep you healthy.
Or maybe your stuck with more detrimental habits, like smoking, drinking, gambling or drug usage? Things you do that you know aren’t good for you, but you can’t stop your self from doing it?

Habits can be changed, just because they are patterns that are repeated. Understanding what habits are and how they work their magic in your life is the first step to changing them. Habits have their own anatomy.